America’s deadly obsession with guns

by Tony Magliano

It’s the worst mass shooting in modern American history.

With at least 49 people murdered as a result of gunshot wounds, and dozens more critically wounded, a gay/LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Fla., now has the sad distinction of being the site of the U.S.’s worst terror attack since 9/11.

The gunman, Omar Mateen, 29, was reportedly able to legally purchase an AR-15-style semi-automatic assault weapon with a 30-bullet magazine clip and a Glock semi-automatic pistol — both used in the attack — even though the FBI had twice investigated him for suspected terrorist ties.

Shortly after the San Bernardino, Calif., mass shooting in 2015, the U.S. Senate rejected legislation that would have expanded background checks for guns purchased online and at gun shows and also rejected legislation that would have prevented individuals on the terror watch list from purchasing firearms. Such laws would have likely prevented Omar Mateen from legally purchasing his murder weapons.

Furthermore, in 2004 a federal law banning many assault weapons expired. Congress has not passed a similar ban since then. Congress has let organizations like the powerful National Rifle Association — with their millions of dollars poured into political campaigns — to continue to influence them from enacting obvious common sense gun control measures.

Read the entire blog

Welcome Rachel, Communications Coordinator

emailWelcome to Rachel Schmidt, our new Communications Coordinator!

Previously, Rachel did communications work for NETWORK and was a program director for the Social Action Office in the Diocese of Cleveland. She has a B.A. in Theology from Walsh University in North Canton, OH and an M.A. in Theology and Religious Studies from John Carroll University in Cleveland, OH. Rachel is passionate about peace, justice, and anti-racism work. She looks forward to interacting with members and supporters via social media, email, and at our national gathering in August.

Any communication inquiries can be directed to Rachel at rschmidt@paxchristiusa.org.

REFLECTION: Hammering for peace

Kathy Kellyby Kathy Kelly
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

Last winter, at the Voices home/office in Chicago, we welcomed two friends who were in town for a Mennonite church gathering focused on the symbol of beating swords into plowshares. Their project embraces a vision from the biblical “Book of Isaiah” which longs for the day when “they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they study war anymore.”  Our friends quite literally enact this vision. They use saws to cut guns and rifles in half and then hammer on the broken weapons, turning them into useful tools for gardening and light construction.

Throughout the service, one of the men could be seen, on a screen, standing outside the Mennonite church hall, fashioning, with hammer and anvil, a rifle into a garden tool. Sparks flew with his hammer, but no-one was inflamed into anger. The fire our friends wanted to ignite was inside us. With what work can we replace war? If we are no longer training for war, what else could we be doing?” 

That winter night, at the Mennonite church, I couldn’t help but think of another activist who had swung a tool last December, in this case, a sledgehammer, because she was inspired to confront weapon makers and encourage alternatives to war. Jessica Reznicek, age 34, didn’t own the weapon system she wanted to transform.  But she felt responsible to help the general public own up to its complicity with weapon systems funded by U.S. taxpayers. She took a sledgehammer to the doors of a major weapon producing company, Northrop Grumman, outside Offut Air Force base. In a written statement explaining why she swung her tool at the plate glass, Jessica asks people to understand that Northrop Grumman’s weapon systems shatter and destroy the lives of people the world over.

As one of the manufacturers with the largest share of the global Unmanned Aerial Systems market, (18.9%), Northrop Grumman profits immensely from peddling complex weapon systems often designed to be eyes in the skies monitoring targets for assassination. This kind of surveillance and extrajudicial execution generates intense anger and backlashes in other lands. It also promotes proliferation of robotic weapons. But the U.S. military and acquiescent institutions encourage us to feel that we’ve been made safer by complex weapons of destruction, and we should instead be frightened of a young woman wielding a sledgehammer to break a plate glass window.

Jessica Reznicek arrested outside of Northrop Grumman Corporation in Nebraska

Jessica Reznicek arrested outside of Northrop Grumman Corporation in Nebraska

On May 24, Jessica Reznicek went to a trial in Nebraska, expected to last two days, for her action. She has chosen to go “pro se,” – to defend herself. Courts in the U.S. seldom allow the necessity defense. If the judge in Jessica’s case does so, Jessica could try to defend herself saying she acted to prevent a greater harm.  She could establish that the U.S. government consistently provides Northrop Grumman with lavish funding, devoting immense resources of materials and scientific ingenuity to the study of war, all desperately needed elsewhere. Northrop Grumman steadily experiments in perfecting the high-tech advantage of an empire bent on endlessly dominating the world through endless war.

I wish that the testimony of my friends who literally beat guns into garden tools could be part of the courtroom proceeding.  They urge us to make guns and other weapons unnecessary, using raw tools of compassion and service to heal the conflicts in which weapons are used. I wish my young Afghan friends here in Kabul, who live under constant surveillance of Unmanned Aerial Systems, could testify about their desire to refine tools of peace making and constructive service.

They could assure the court that it’s far more worthwhile to develop raw tools for producing needed goods and services than to develop weapon systems of mass destruction.

Jessica’s action makes me wonder if the “norm” in our society is the opposite of the biblical plowshares exhortation.  Our major institutions study the ways of war comprehensively and our “top crop” in the U.S. has become weapons.     Jessica encourages, one might even say provokes, discussion of the role militarism plays in our world.

I hope the words of a legendary barrister in Ireland, Mr. Nix, who defended “The Pitstop Plowshares,” can be recalled as Jessica’s trial nears conclusion. Shortly before the U.S. led coalition began bombing Iraq in 2003, five activists invoked the swords to plowhsares saying from the Book of Isaiah and hammered on a U.S. warplane parked on the tarmac of Shannon airport.  Ireland is a neutral country, and they believed that the U.S. Navy warplanes making “pitstops” en route to a war zone violated that neutrality. They undertook the action shortly after attending a retreat during which the Sisters of St. Brigid, in Kildare, Ireland had asked me to speak about Iraqis who suffered under 13 years of U.S. led UN economic sanctions.   Before returning to Baghdad, I gave  them enlarged, laminated photos of  Iraqi children who were among the half million who died, according to the U.N., as a direct result of economic sanctions along with photos of children killed  by an earlier U.S. aerial attack on the city of Basra. They used these photos to set up a memorial shrine next to the warplane they had damaged. Mr. Nix, preparing for trial, asked that I come to Dublin as a witness to help establish the defendants’ motivations. I will never forget  his closing statement in which he delivered a fiery indictment of war makers and described the hideous punishment wars inflict on innocent people, especially children. He ended his remarks by addressing  everyone assembled in Dublin’s Four Courts, saying:  “The question isn’t ‘Did these five have a lawful excuse to do what they did?’ The question is ‘What’s your excuse not to do more? What will rise ye?!’ The Irish jury acquitted the defendants on all charges.

No matter what the outcome of Jessica’s trial, Mr. Nix’s question, “What will rise ye?” abides. How can we, each of us, help lift the hammer of justice, cultivating a world at peace.

Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org) While in Kabul, she is a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers (ourjourneytosmile.com)

NATIONAL GATHERING: Register now for the 2016 PCUSA National Gathering

Important-AnnouncementJust a reminder to register for the 2016 Pax Christi USA National Gathering to take place in Linthicum, Maryland. The theme of the gathering is “Building the Beloved Community: Addressing the Signs of the Times with Bold Conversations Leading to Transformative Actions”.

The keynote speakers and workshop presenters were recently announced and preparations are underway for what promises to be an extraordinary experience.

The dates for the gathering are Friday, August 12, 2016 through Sunday, August 14, 2016. The location of the gathering is the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel at the BWI Airport, 890 Elkridge Landing Road, Linthicum, Maryland 21090.

Click here to register or for more information on the gathering.

If you have any questions regarding the national gathering or registration, please contact Sr. Anne-Louise Nadeau, SNDdeN at 202-635-2741 or anadeau@paxchristiusa.org.

AFGHANISTAN: Building trust in Afghanistan

Kathy Kellyby Kathy Kelly
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

Here in Kabul, I read a recent BBC op-ed by Ahmed Rashid, urging a “diplomatic offensive” to build or repair relationships with the varied groups representing armed extremism in Afghanistan. Rashid has insisted, for years, that severe mistrust makes it almost impossible for such groups to negotiate an end to Afghanistan’s nightmare of war.

Glancing upward at one of the six U.S. manufactured aerostat blimps performing constant surveillance over Kabul, I wonder if the expensively high-tech giant’s-eye view encourages a primitive notion that the best way to solve a problem here is to target a “bad guy” and then kill him. If the bad guys appear to be scurrying dots on the ground below, stomp them out.

Nisar Works in the Centre Garden (1)

Nisar Works in the Centre Garden

Crushing only the right dots has proven very difficult for a U.S. drone warfare program documented to have killed many civilians. News sources speculate that the recent drone assassination of Taliban leader Akthar Mansour makes an end to this war far less likely.  A commentator for the highly respected Afghan Analyst Network has written that “with the U.S. killing Akhtar Mansur, it is unlikely the Taleban will be set on anything but revenge for now, as can be understood from the movement’s political psychology… There is no reason to believe the fighting will de-escalate with the new leadership.”

Was that simple prediction available to the U.S.’ giant’s-eye view?

My young friends among the Afghan Peace Volunteers have shown me a vastly different approach toward problem solving.  In a sense, they’ve been launching a diplomatic outreach, refining their approach through trial and error over the course of several years, taking careful steps toward building trust between different ethnic groups, and also relying on their own personal stories to help them understand the cares and concerns of others. Throughout their efforts they’ve tried to be guided by Gandhi’s advice about considering the poorest person’s needs before making a decision.

What has brought a non-violent future closer to Afghanistan – giant sized military and surveillance systems or the accomplishments of young volunteers working to develop inter-ethnic projects?

20 teams are working at the Borderfree Center organizing practical activities within communities coping with multiple economic woes, including food insecurity, unemployment, and inadequate income for meeting basic needs.

Young people travel to and from the Center along unpaved roads lined on both sides with sewage filled drainage ditches. Traffic is chaotic, and the air is so polluted that many wear protective face masks. Day laborers congregate at intersections waiting in desperation for the opportunity to perform hard labor for $2.00 a day or less.

Even those fortunate enough to receive an education will likely face extreme difficulty in finding a job. Unemployment is at an all-time high of 40% and many jobs are attained only through ‘connections.’

Throughout Kabul, refugees crowd into squalid, sprawling camps where people live without adequate protection from harsh weather. According to The U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, between Jan. 1 and April 30 this year, “117,976 people fled their homes due to conflict.”  And, the U.N. says it has only received 16 percent of funds needed for humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan this year.

Nisar, one of the students at the Borderfree Center’s Street Kids School, understands destitution all too well.  He has been earning an income for his family since he was a small child, working as a shoeshine boy on Kabul streets and also in a butcher shop.  Now, at age 17, he will soon graduate from three years of classes with the Street Kids School.  In the past year, he has been a steady volunteer, taking on responsibilities with the duvet project and the organic gardening team.  Nisar says that when he first came to the Center, three years ago, he felt astonished to see people from different ethnic backgrounds sitting together. Nisar’s family comes from the Wardak province, and relatives of his are among those who recently fled the Taleban.  He clearly understands the terrible risks that armed struggle could bring, even here in “Ka-bubble” as Kabul is sometimes called because of the relative calm that still prevails here. In spite of tensions, Nisar feels sure that when people learn to overcome their fears and start talking with one another, they can set aside hatreds taught to them at young ages.

U.S. planners, heads lost in the sky, seemingly pay little heed to developing ways of building trust.  Resources are gobbled up by gigantic multinational “defense” companies dedicated to the task of further, trampling warfare, while withholding anything like the quantity of resources needed for the task of repairing the wreckage they themselves have caused.

U.S. think tanks cleverly promote cartoonized versions of foreign policy wherein the mighty giant strikes a fist and eliminates the “bad guy” whom we are told has caused our problems. But I believe U.S. people would be better off if we could see the often-suffering communities that show admirable qualities as they try to survive.  We could learn from their efforts to build mutual trust and solidarity, and their courage to reject war. We could insist that the massively well-endowed US and NATO powers finally acknowledge that the best hopes for a lasting peace come when communities experience a measure of stability and prosperity. The giant powers could help alleviate the desperate need faced by people enduring hunger, disease and homelessness.

U.S. people should earnestly ask how the U.S. could help build trust here in Afghanistan, and, as a first step, begin transferring funds from the coffers of weapon companies to the UN accounts trying to meet humanitarian needs. The “giant” could be seen stooping, humbly, to help plant seeds, hoping for a humane harvest.

Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (vcnv.org). While in Kabul, she is a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers (ourjourneytosmile.com).

ENDORSED CAMPAIGN: Pax Christi USA joins other faith groups in urging support for key Native American programs

from FCNL 

NOTE: Pax Christi USA has signed onto this letter.

A number of faith groups, including Pax Christi USA, signed onto a letter which was hand delivered on May 19 and 20 to members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, subcommittees on Interior and Environment.

The letter begins:

We write to thank you for the attentive and supportive oversight you provide for Native American programs. In the last few years, your work has resulted in significantly increased support for several programs that benefit Indian country, especially school reconstruction, health care, and tribal justice.

As faith-based organizations, we have followed and supported legislation and funding in these areas, in part from our deep concern for future generations of Native Americans, and in part due to an emerging recognition of our own role in the history of destructive relationships between Native Americans and colonists. We seek to support and strengthen tribal governance, tribal health, and tribal youth…

Click here to read the letter.